Lengthening Short URLs

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Leeland's picture

I prefer simple things over complex. So naturally I like easy to read URLs and I strive to keep URLs on sites I work on from getting out of control. So I appreciate the idea and the results of compact URL services like is.gd and TinyURL. I also understand the need to more accurately track incoming hits for marketing and usage statistics. But these self same services are also used by less noble people who create malicious sites for illicit fun or profit.

Like everyone I get a lot of email messages or see things out in the wild jungle that is the Internet which pique my interest and I want to follow the links. This has sometimes led to very unusual situations of dozens of windows being opened and various cracker style attacks on my computer. While the short URLs produced by services such as is.gd, TinyURL, and many others are great for convenience they can also mask some pretty unsafe places to venture.

After falling into such a trap just this morning I got curious to see if there was a way peek behind the masked URLs to learn their true identity. Off to Google and sure enough all of the up front services provide a means to check out where you are going to get sent off to before you actually jump in.

For example if you add the word "preview" to the front of a TinyURL you will get to see where you are going. Thus changing the URL http://tinyurl.com/KindleWireless to http://preview.tinyurl.com/KindleWireless lets you look behind the URL before going there.

Joshua Long has already done both the research, and an excellent report on how to unmask the shortened URLs in his JoshMeister Blog How to Preview Shortened URLs (TinyURL, bit.ly, is.gd, and more) http://security.thejoshmeister.com/2009/04/how-to-preview-shortened-urls....

Trying to figure out which method to use for all of the URL compacting sites can be a little difficult and time consuming. So an alternative is to use one of the URL expanding services which will figure out where the links go for you. I recommend http://www.longurlplease.com/ , http://longurl.org/ , or http://www.expandmyurl.com/ .

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